Science Interviews


Sun, 13th Jan 2008

Must Have Gadgets?

Chris Vallance

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Now itís time to find out the latest from the world of technology with Meera Senthilingham and Chris Vallance.

Meera - Now, the biggest event in the gadget calendar happened this week in Las Vegas. Thatís the Consumer Electronics Show, where all the latest gadgets and gizmos of 2008 are on show.  I had a chat with our technology expert, Chris Vallance, to find out about it.  So Chris, whatís the point of the Consumer Electronics Show?

Chris V - CES is really about the gadgets, itís about the electronics, itís about people showcasing their new products.  The BBCís technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones was there.  Just as he was about to leave Las Vegas I caught up with him and asked him to summarise what the event had been like.

Sony OLED TVRory - Weíre seeing the digital home really come a step closer here through a number of different devices.  Just when you think digital TV has gone as far as it can go.  Weíre all getting used to the transition from cathode ray to various kinds of flat screen technologies.  Now organic LED is a new technology which, so far has been used in pretty small screens.  What you get is a very slim screen, very economical in its energy use and incredibly pure colour.  Itís very difficult when you see them on the TV from afar to appreciate it.  Actually standing in front of them the other day I was really impressed for once and thought, Iíd like one of those.  The trouble is at this stage, itís a very expensive technology.  I think Sonyís got an 11 inch screen on scale for $2500, about £1300 for a tiny, tiny TV.

Samsung had a much bigger screen, a 30Ē OLED but they werenít saying when that was going to come to market and what price it would be.  Generally, new kinds of television are a big theme here.  Another TV which I didnít get to see but one of my colleagues was pretty impressed by was the Laser TV, a new technology developed by Mitsubishi: again promising richer, deeper colours and lower energy use.  Thereís a big competition here to convince consumers that they do need to upgrade yet again.

Meera - So that was BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.  Were there any other gadgets that caught your eye, Chris?

Chris V - I must admit one of the things about the CES Ė itís always fun to read about some of the weird and quirky inventions that people come out with.  A couple of them: fashion models of Taser stun-guns.  The other thing that caught my eye was an electronic picture frame.  Now you can see these things in the shops all over the place where you put in your digital camera photos and they rotate the pictures, thereís a slide show.  Thereís a new take on that where thereís a picture frame where you could actually add a mobile phone number so you could send the pictures to it.  I must admit the evil part of my brain was thinking about all the pranks you could play.  Although if somebody else you donít know or donít like finds the number it could be a bit embarrassing.  There was lots of stuff on display at CES so an interesting event for those who were there.  Lots and lots to be read about online, as well.

Meera -   Moving on to developments online it looks like the people behind Wikipedia are trying to get into the search business, are they?

Chris V - Yes, this was quite a big announcement.  Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia (he also has a commercial business called Wikia, a commercial Wikia hosting company).  Wikia have launched what theyíre describing as an open-source search engine.  Itís called Search Wikia.  I spoke to Jimmy Wales, the Wikia and Wikipedia founder about the new search engine and he told me what was different about it.

Jimmy - Yeah, so launching on Monday to have a brand new open-source search engine thatís completely controlled by the community of users.  Itís going to work similar to any Wiki except people will be able to participate in the creation of search results.  Weíre putting everything under free license so that other people can take it and modify it and adapt it.  Thereís many different ways that people can tweak search results.  People could on a very basic level give some kind of feedback i.e. 1-5 stars on search results to give feedback into the algorithm.  Itís very similar to Wikipedia in the sense that the community are given control over the editorial decisions.

Chris V - That was Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder.  Also the person whoís behind Search Wikia, the new open source search engine.

Meera - Chris, what do you thinkís going to set this apart from other search engines?

Chris V - The important thing is that the search algorithms, the thing that determines what comes out top when you type in a search term: thatís all going to be open.  Thatís a very different approach from search engines like Google which tend to very closely guard the exact rules that determine what comes out top of the list when you type in Ďsoft cheeseí.  Search Wikiaís approach is very different, theyíre saying, Ďletís open it all up, letís make everything transparent.í  That has positive effects in that you can see whatís going on and why things are happening but there are other issues as that arise: conflicts of interest from the people developing the search algorithm.  What happens if companies say, Ďoh well, thatís how it works so thatís how we get our results further up the list.í  Itís a really different approach.  I guess at the end the proof will be in the pudding.  Which search engine users decide gives them the best results.  It will be interesting to see how it develops as Search Wikia grows.


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